The Mortal Storm

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The Mortal Storm
The Mortal Storm- 1940- Poster.png
Directed by Frank Borzage
Produced by Frank Borzage
Victor Saville
Written by Phyllis Bottome (novel)
Screenplay by Claudine West
Hans Rameau
George Froeschel
Based on The Mortal Storm (1938 novel)
Starring Margaret Sullavan
James Stewart
Robert Young
Frank Morgan
Robert Stack
Music by Bronislau Kaper
Eugene Zador
Cinematography William H. Daniels
Lloyd Knechtel
Leonard Smith
Edited by Elmo Veron
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release dates
  • June 14, 1940 (1940-06-14)
Running time
100 min.
Country United States
Language English
Frame from movie trailer

The Mortal Storm (1940) is a drama film from MGM[1][2] directed by Frank Borzage and starring Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart.

Production background[edit]

The Mortal Storm was one of the few directly anti-Nazi Hollywood films released before the American entry into World War II in December 1941. The film stars James Stewart as a German who refuses to join the rest of his small Bavarian town in supporting Nazism. He falls in love with Freya Roth (Margaret Sullavan), the daughter of a Junker mother and a "non-Aryan" father. The Mortal Storm was the last movie Sullavan and Stewart made together.

Freya and her father are implied to be Jews but the word "Jew" is never used, and they are only identified as "non-Aryans"; in addition, Freya's half brothers are all members of the Nazi Party. Though it is understood that the film is set in Germany, the name of the country is rarely mentioned except at the very beginning in a short text of introduction. MGM purposely did not mention the name of the country or the religion of Freya's family because of the large German market for its films, but it was to no avail—the movie infuriated the Nazi government and it led to all MGM films being banned in Germany.

The supporting cast includes Robert Young (a major romantic lead in many Hollywood films and later Jim Anderson on television's Father Knows Best, and the title role in Marcus Welby, MD), Robert Stack (The Untouchables, 1959–63), Frank Morgan (Professor Marvel and the Wizard in The Wizard of Oz), Dan Dailey, Ward Bond (John Wayne's co-star in 23 films and one of director John Ford's favorite ensemble actors), Maria Ouspenskaya, William T. Orr, and Bonita Granville, who was the first actress to play Nancy Drew onscreen.

The film is based on the 1938 novel The Mortal Storm by the British writer Phyllis Bottome. Mountain snow scenes were filmed at Salt Lake City, Utah and Sun Valley, Idaho.[3]

The score by award winning composer Bronislau Kaper and by Eugene Zador (who normally orchestrated) was not credited to them, but rather a pseudonym, "Edward Kane".


Margaret Sullavan in The Mortal Storm trailer

In 1933, Freya Roth (Margaret Sullavan) is a young German girl engaged to a Nazi party member (Robert Young). When she realizes the true nature of his political views she breaks the engagement and turns her attention to anti-Nazi Martin Breitner (James Stewart). Her father, Professor Roth (Frank Morgan), does not abide by the attitude of the new order towards scientific fact.

Though his stepsons Erich (William T. Orr) and Otto (Robert Stack) eagerly embrace the regime, their father's reluctance to conform leads at first to a boycott of his classes and eventually to his capture. He is imprisoned and made to work. His wife is permitted a five minute visit in which the professor urges her to take Freya and her younger brother and leave the country. He dies soon after.

Freya is kept from leaving by Nazi officials suspicious of her father's work. She reunites with Martin and together they attempt to escape through a mountain pass. A squad (reluctantly led by her former fiancee) gives chase and Freya is fatally wounded, dying in Martin's arms just after they cross the border. Later, Erich and Otto are informed of their sister's death. Though Erich responds with anger towards Martin; Otto seems repentant, wandering their once happy home before walking into the heavy snow.


Margaret Sullavan in the trailer


  1. ^ Variety film review; June 12, 1940, page 14.
  2. ^ Harrison's Reports film review; June 22, 1940, page 98.
  3. ^ Turner Classic Movies: The Mortal Storm (notes)

External links[edit]